From the look of things, the impending December senatorial elections and the referendum, scheduled to be held concomitantly, may likely be seriously imperiled and may be tainted by fraud that may not go down well with the public if nothing is done to put things in check. The forecast appears gloomy.
NEC Chairman Davidetta Browne Lansanah has for instance submitted a budget of US$14 million and a plan of action calling for a mobile Voters Roll Update (VRU) process to last a period of ten (10) days. Now critics contend that the budget as well as the plan is highly unrealistic. In the first place, NEC Chairperson Lansanah was appointed by her predecessor Korkoyah in 2019, to provide oversight to the 2020 Senatorial elections.
In that capacity, she also served as Chairperson of the Steering Committee for the 2020 elections. Under her leadership, the Steering Committee initially submitted a budget of US$26 million for the elections and a planned 28-day period for update of the Voters Roll. Informed sources say the budget was unrealistic.
And this was so primarily because the head of the NEC Data Center, Floyd Sayor (now Commissioner), for unexplained reasons, had insisted that the Data Center be outfitted anew with brand new equipment although existing equipment at the time were in working condition and functional. Sayor did not have his way and the budget was further reduced to US$23m to cover the VRU, elections and referendum.
But sources have told the Daily Observer that in a meeting held with partners, at which Justice Minister Musa Dean and Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee were present, Finance Minister Tweah railed against the budget arguing it was too high and questioning what was likely to happen were GoL unable to finance the budget.
The then chairperson of the NEC Steering Committee, Commissioner Davidetta Browne Lansanah, simply responded by saying were that to be the case, there would be no elections. This was as recent as December 2019. Fast forward to 2020, but now presiding as Chairperson of NEC, she has submitted a thrice revised budget from US$23 million to US$17 million and is now down to US$13.5 million.
As if such reductions were not harmful enough, she has also proposed that the VRU be conducted within ten (10) days and will not be stationary but mobile as urged by some partners according to informed sources. The VRU process will include verification of names on the Voters Roll, replacement of damaged phots on IDs and inclusion of new voters who have attained legal age of eighteen (18) years.
But judging from experience, the figures as well as the plan of action appear highly unrealistic. There can be absolutely no justification or excuse for such an unrealistic submission because all along Chairperson Lansanah has sat in meetings, deliberated and even chaired the Steering Committee on these upcoming elections.
Questions are being asked whether she has acquiesced to pressure from Finance Minister Tweah and others such that she has now submitted a budget and plan of action which, if followed, will more likely than not prove to be a recipe for chaos. For example, during the 2014 senatorial elections, the NEC experimented with mobile registration and mobile Voters Roll update.
The experiment proved to be a virtual disaster even though it was done during the dry season when roads were in comparatively passable condition as opposed to the rainy season when roads in the countryside become virtually impassable. Moreover the 28-day period in which it was conducted proved to be insufficient allotted time.
This time around, according to Chairperson Lansanah’s budget and plan of action, the VRU will not be stationary rather, it will be mobile. But has the Chairperson forgotten about the disastrous 2014 experiment which had to be halted and replaced by a stationary VRU process?
Additionally, has she forgotten that Elections Magistrates, recalled from their assignments for a workshop in preparation for the elections, in addition to daily subsistence allowance (DSA), have to be provided breakfast and lunch? They have expressed shock and displeasure at the fact that unlike before, Magistrates have been required to provide breakfast and lunch at their own expense with promises that they will be provided an amount of US$15 each afterwards.
And has she forgotten that she is proposing that this VRU process be held at the height of the rainy season when roads through the countryside have become impassable? The public is left to speculate whether this is due to incompetence or to complicity with designs to produce fraudulent elections results.
Chairperson Lansanah probably needs to be reminded of the grave implications associated with such lapses which the public is already attributing to connivance or collusion with a grand “rob Peter” (the Liberian people) “to pay PauL” (politicians and predatory business interests) -like scheme.
She must never suffer loss of memory (amnesia) of the 2017 elections which brought the nation to the brink of violence as she presides over the December elections. Already, violence has begun to rise to near intolerable levels. Fraudulent elections results arising from a fraudulent and compromised Voters Roll will more likely than not provoke public protests which may turn violent and spill into a free-for-all affair.
And should violence of the kind witnessed in Klah Town (Clara Town) recently, when Darius Dillon visited, rear its head, or should violence ensue as the result of elections results widely perceived to be fraudulent, it could create legitimacy problems for the government as it will not be complete without a full Senate.
President Weah should be reminded of the implications of instability, that there are scores of opportunists waiting in the wings to latch on to any opportunity or do everything possible to sell the idea of a transitional government should this Weah led government allow politically motivated violence to spin out of control and prevent the successful holding of peaceful, free, fair and transparent elections.
Truth be told, the forecast for the upcoming December elections appear gloomy and all must be done to avert the unfolding of impending disaster.